Reports coming in from all over the world show that learning disabilities are on the rise in developed countries. National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States interviewed Dr. Amy Houtrow who was one of the main researchers conducting a study on learning disabilities in America. Dr. Amy Houtrow reports that about six million children have a learning disability, such as Dysphasia, in the United States. Many come from affluent families. This is close to a 16% increase from only ten years ago.
What is surprising is that physical disabilities are decreasing, while mental disabilities are increasing. Something very serious is going on and it is affecting the brains and neurological functions of the children. The rates of autism are higher than a decade ago. Parents of children, who find their kids are not able to participate equally in activities with other children of the same age, report other impairments.
Perhaps one explanation for the statistical increase proposed by Dr. Houtrow is that wealthy families have more access to health care than poorer families. Moreover, there is more openness to discussing such childhood developmental problems than before.
In order to make sense of some of the difficulties parents face, when dealing with mental disabilities, it is helpful to understand the meaning of certain medical terms. Many medical terms sound alike. Nevertheless, their meanings are quite different. For example, it is important to know the difference between what is dysphasia and the very similar sounding word of dysphagia, which is explained below. Here are the definitions of some of the common medical terms relating to learning disabilities in children.
Aphasia – According to MedlinePlus, aphasia comes from brain damage in the areas of the brain that support language comprehension and expression. Children who suffer from aphasia have difficulty reading, writing, or saying what they want to express. Adults who are stroke victims have the same difficulties caused by aphasia. When comparing aphasia vs dysphasia, they mean the same thing.
There are four types of aphasia characterized by how the symptoms are identified.
The types are:
- Expressive – A child knows what they want to say, but has difficulty writing down or saying what they want to convey.
- Receptive – A child can read or hear, but does not understand the words.
- Anomic – This is where a child substitutes words with an incorrect word. For example, they might call a “ball” a “bowl.”
- Global – This is the most serious form of aphasia. Global aphasia means a child cannot understand spoken or written language and is not able to express itself.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – A child with ADD has difficulty paying attention. ADHD is characterized by the child being over-active, having a short attention span, and acting out with impulsive behaviors. Boys are more likely to have ADHD than girls. ADHD is found in about three to five percent of all children.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – Children with autism exhibit many different types of behaviors. However, they are in a range of behavioral actions that show similarities, such as not being able to communicate, not looking another person in the eyes, having restrictive interests, and/or repeating behaviors. Autistic children may order the same things many times or say the same phrases constantly. Children with ASD are often seen as living in reality that is separate from others.
Dyslexia – Dyslexia is very common. About fifteen to twenty percent of American students have dyslexia. This is a major cause for failure to perform well in reading and comprehension skills. Frequently, dyslexia is not diagnosed. Because of this, a child may experience low self-esteem, thinking that they are more stupid than other children are. It is not a matter of intelligence. The problem is that their brain makes it difficult to read. Once dyslexia is identified in young children (and the sooner the better), they are able to undergo training to compensate for the problem. For a student with dyslexia, the letter “E” looks like the number “3.” Once the child knows what is going on in their brain, they are able to adjust to the problem and continue to learn how to read at a normal pace.
Dysarthria – A child with dysarthria has difficulty speaking because of lack of motor control in the throat and vocal chords. Anarthria and dysarthria mean the same thing and are interchangeable. Dysarthria is a problem of muscular function as compared to dysphasia, which is a problem of brain function. It is possible for a patient to have both dysarthria and dysphasia at the same time.
Dysphasia – The Dysphasia definition includes an explanation of expressive dysphasia and a comparison of dysphasia vs aphasia. European health professionals prefer the term dysphasia. In the United States and Canada, the term aphasia is more frequently used. Dysphasia and aphasia mean exactly the same thing. Nevertheless, in order to define dysphasia, it is important to distinguish dysphasia vs dysphagia. Dysphasia causes are brain injuries that make it difficult for a person to communicate.
Dysphagia – This word is very similar to dysphasia, yet its meaning is quite different. Dysphagia, where the letter “g” replaces the letter “s” at the end of the word, means having a difficult time trying to swallow something. Dysphagia occurs when something blocks the esophagus making it hard or painful to swallow. Persons with dysphagia might have a tumor blocking the throat or a motor dysfunction that interrupts the normal ability to swallow.
According to HelpGuide.org, learning disabilities in general are a broad category of things that give the child difficulty in expressing themselves and learning how to read, write, and/or do mathematics. At different ages, the symptoms of learning difficulties may appear. MedlinePlus reminds us that a child who has a language disorder is not less intelligent. Lack of sufficient intelligence is rarely the cause for a language disorder.
About one in twenty children have a language disorder. Some children experience delayed language skills, but do not have a permanent language disorder. Delayed language simply means the child learns to speak the same way as other children, but the process is slower to manifest.
Language disorders that are part of learning disabilities are different from delayed language. Children with receptive disorders have a difficult time understanding things. Children with expressive disorders have a hard time expressing themselves in ways that others are able to understand. Both problems may be present in a child, making comprehension difficult while expression is also challenging.
At certain ages, it is possible to notice the symptoms of learning disabilities. When parents suspect that their child may have a learning disability, they should take their child to the doctor for tests. The first thing the doctor will do is test the child’s hearing. The test for hearing problems is an audiometric exam.
If the child does not have any hearing problems, then a child psychologist can give the child further tests to uncover learning disability problems.
Here is a list of things from HelpGuide.org that parents can look for, depending on the age of their children:
Indicators of Learning Disabilities in Preschool Children
- Difficulty saying words and making rhymes.
- Not using the correct word
- Challenges when learning the ABC’s, counting to ten, identifying names of colors, picking out shapes, or reciting the days of the week.
- Not being able to follow simple directions.
- Difficulty with tying shoes, zippers, and/or buttons.
- Having trouble with manual dexterity in handling small objects like crayons or pencils.
- Not being able to concentrate or make drawings within the lines.
Indicators of Learning Disabilities in Children from the Ages of Five to Nine
- Difficulty saying words.
- Not being able to connect sounds with the letters.
- Confusing one word with another.
- Confusion about telling time.
- Trouble spelling simple words correctly.
- Difficulty with math problems.
- Slow pace in learning new things.
Indicators of Learning Disabilities in Children from the Ages of Ten to Thirteen
- Challenged when trying to understand math or word problems.
- Does not like to read, especially to read aloud.
- Has poor reading skills and lack of reading comprehension.
- Writing is messy. Letters are reversed, like seen in a mirror.
- Trouble spelling simple words. Letters are out of order. Words are spelled differently on the same written page.
- Shows lack of the ability to organize things or to pay attention in class.
Early detection of childhood learning disabilities increases the coping abilities of both the parents and the child. If a learning disability exists, it is better to identify the problem early, so that the child may receive additional assistance and learn new ways to overcome challenges without suffering low self-esteem.